"The Twenty-Seventh Man" by Nathan Englander

In this opening salvo to Nathan Englander’s much-loved story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Meredith gave it 5 stars on GoodReads!), 27 writers are rounded up and imprisoned in Stalinist Russia. 26 of these writers are great intellectuals with minds and public reputations to be reckoned with. The 27th writer, Pinchas Pelovits, is a clerical slip: he’s an unpublished writer, a mere enthusiast of books.

However, as the published writers face down their impending executions by bickering over their respective achievements, Pinchas is hard at work writing a story that floors them all. Pinchas’s story ends with the question “Which one of us is to say the prayer [for the dead]?” A valid point: who writes the eulogy when all the writers have been executed?

In this interview with The Atlantic Monthly, Nathan Englander nominates himself. “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” he says, “was my permission story, about making the decision to write.” Can’t wait to see what he follows this manifesto of a story with.

—Pam